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Florence: A Portrait Paperback – November 15, 1998


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The usual tourist group's stay in Florence begins with the Duomo, runs through the paintings in the Uffizi, includes a visit to Michaelangelo's "David" and ends with a parade through a handful of churches. But the visitor who first reads Sir Michael Levey's portrait of the city will find rewards off that well-worn track. The city, a self-styled "new Athens" supported a wealth of artists, sculptors, humanists, and scholars, not to mention more than its share of wealthy individuals, who taken together, helped turn Florence into one of the world's great provincial outposts. Layering telling details, little-known facts and carefully explained social and intellectual history, Levey weaves a dense tale of this charming city, from the Middle Ages to the Quattrocento, through the Renaissance and on up to the early years of this century. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starting with the early Renaissance and continuing into the 19th century, Levey has amassed an admirable trove of material about one of the world's most beguiling cities. Levey, former director of London's National Gallery and author of Early Renaissance, understandably focuses on art and architectural history, adding periodic updates on the political goings-on during each of the periods covered. The chapter on early-14th century Florence, for instance, describes the striking buildings of the time (including many towers used as prisons) and the city's increasing organization into various districts before moving on to greater detail on certain important works of art, such as Andrea Orcagna's Orsanmichele tabernacle and Andrea Pisano's bronze doors. Some of the writing about art becomes numbing, not because of Levey's style but because in an attempt to reflect the volume of art produced in Florence, he covers so much of it. There's little about the daily life of normal Florentines here, and sometimes too much space is dedicated to events like the return of the Medici Pope Leo X. An entire chapter is devoted to "Triumphal Entries and Fatal Exits," which, following more strictly chronological chapters on the Florence of Lorenzo de' Medici and of Savonarola, seems an awkward attempt to cover certain works he is loathe to leave out. If at times the detail overwhelms the big picture, the 150 illustrations (50 in color) and Levey's excellent artistic counsel make this a worthy guide for anyone seriously seeking Florence.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (November 15, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674306589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674306585
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 7.4 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,602,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By MasterMarquette on August 2, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a wonderful, "behind-the-scenes" history of Art and Life in Florence during its Golden Period. Levey has synthesized historical and personal accounts of the period and it results in a Historical text which is very readable. He gives life to the great artists of the time and some of the 'dirt' too. Levey not only discusses the achievements of the Masters with authority, but also provides interesting background information, including motives, jealousies, intrigue and favoritism. Despite its weight, this is THE travelogue on Florence I will take with me.
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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 9, 1999
Format: Hardcover
This book gives the reader a history of Florence through its art. Naturally, the Florence in the time of the Renaissance is covered at length, but Levey doesn't stop there. He gives lots of insight into the patronage of art in succeeding periods. Levey's portrait of Florence is also a portrait of the Medici family and their artistic legacy to the city.
While this book might be too hefty and too heady for the casual italophile, it should be in the library of every hard-core Italy lover.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Antoinette King on November 3, 2006
Format: Paperback
It is as though we are moving through the streets of Florence with Mr. Levey at our side telling us fascinating stories about the people and places of the city by the Arno. Anyone with an interest in Florence will find this volume a wonderful companion to the larger histories and art books. We are the beneficiaries of the author's lifetime of experience and understanding in the matters of the Renaissance and its center, Florence. Highly recommended.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Bryan C. Davis on July 19, 2006
Format: Paperback
The book is wonderfully written, but reading it presents the same challenges as following a university lecture on the subject. Mr. Levey does not dumb down his subject or choose words he thinks most people will understand. You must keep up with him, and it would be helpful to keep handy a dictionary and a book on art history (or at least be near the internet).

This is a fascinating and insightful work, but not one you'll want to read a couple of pages of while your spouse watches Letterman before bed. You'll want to be paying strict attention as you read. If you do so, you'll find yourself well prepared for a visit to this amazing city. Rather than questioning your tour guide, you may well be able to teach her a thing or two on the subject.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Philip Spires on January 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
Having read Michael Levey's From Giotto to Cezanne and A History of Western Art, I approached Florence - A Portrait thinking I knew what to expect. I did find the attention to detail, the keen critical evaluation and aesthetics that I expected. I did not envisage the book would turn out also to be quite the gargantuan work of scholarship and erudition that it is. Florence - A Portrait is much more than a history of art in the city state. It is almost a biography of the place, replete with historical, economic and political detail. What is missing, of course, is a picture of Florentine life from the point of view of the ordinary citizen, but we cannot criticize Michael Levey for not including what probably does not exist.

I visited Florence thirty years ago and have never returned. At the time, memories of Kenneth Clark's Civilisation were very clear in my mind and I focused on renaissance Florence, almost to the derision of the rest. Even after such time I found my memories of the architecture, paintings and sculptures were still fresh, however, when I read Michael Levey's descriptions. But his descriptions do more than merely list a presence or critique a style. He offers context, critical evaluation, origins and influences when he considers these - and any - works of art. He identifies flattery or criticism, idolatry or satire where an untutored eye would see only colours and shapes.

The book is presented chronologically. It walks us through the early years of the renaissance and deals with the extent of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries in minute detail. Then, as a more anonymous baroque era dawns, the account speeds up somewhat.
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